Rating: Elementary, Season 4

Here’s our take on Elementary‘s fourth season:

  1. “The Past is Parent” – 4.5
  2. “Evidence of Things Not Seen” – 4.5
  3. “Tag, You’re Me” – 7
  4. “All My Exes Live in Essex” – 5.5
  5. “The Games Underfoot” – 4
  6. “The Cost of Doing Business” – 5
  7. “Miss Taken” – 3.5
  8. “A Burden of Blood” – 5
  9. “Murder Ex Machina” – 4.5
  10. “ Alma Matters” – 5.5
  11. “Down Where the Dead Delight” – 6
  12. “A View with a Room” – 8
  13. “A Study in Charlotte” – 8
  14. “Who is that Masked Man” – 4.5
  15. “Up to Heaven and Down to Hell” – 6
  16. “Hounded” – 8
  17. “You’ve Got Me, Who’s Got You?” – 5.5
  18. “Ready or Not” – 7
  19. “All In” – 6.5
  20. “Art Imitates Art” – 5.5
  21. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – 4
  22. “Turn it Upside-Down” – 7
  23. “The Invisible Hand” – 1.5
  24. “A Difference in Kind” – 2

Elementary continues to entertain with complicated mysteries and the ongoing evolution of Sherlock and Joan’s partnership. This season’s ratings average out at a perfectly respectable 5.5, but it could have been better.

The big weight dragging this season down is the ongoing arc about the tangled relationship between Sherlock and his father Morland Holmes. Although John Noble gives a fantastic performance of Morland Holmes as a rich man who can’t quite buy off his own conscience, we are sick to death of stories about fathers and sons who don’t get along. The arc takes up too much oxygen in this season and leaves some episodes that otherwise had potential with not enough air to breathe.

The lowest episodes of the season are at the end, “The Invisible Hand” (1.5) and “A Difference in Kind” (2), a two-parter in which the Daddy Morland story crashes into the ongoing saga of Moriarty and her international network of evil. The collision of these storylines is poorly handled and ends up feeling perfunctory and more the product of the need for an “exciting” season finale than the internal logic of the characters involved.

For the best of the season, though, we have a trio of 8s, each of which stands alone and apart from the Morland drama: “A View with a Room,” in which Holmes investigates a video shot inside the headquarters of a violent biker gang, “A Study in Charlotte,” about a dead mushroom expert, and “Hounded,” in which a man is chased to death by what seems to be a glowing dog. Two of these episodes—“A Study in Charlotte” and “Hounded”—riff on classic Holmes novels (A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles) in interesting ways, although “Hounded” is more faithful to the original while “Charlotte” just borrows some scene-setting. All three of them present Holmes and Watson with unusual problems—a video that seemingly couldn’t have been shot, a set of deaths that may have been accident or murder, and a phantom hound on the streets of Manhattan.

Apart from these episodes, though, most of this season is in the okay-but-not-great range between 4 and 6. This season is solid, but not exceptional. Still, the chemistry of the characters and the inventiveness of the mysteries keep Elementary afloat, as always.

Image: Sherlock and Joan consult a skeleton, from “All My Exes Live in Essex” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 3

Season 3 of Elementary adds a new character to the mix, shaking up the relationship between Sherlock and Joan in some interesting ways.

Here’s our episode ratings:

  1. “Enough Nemesis to Go Around” – 3.5
  2. “The Five Orange Pipz” – 5
  3. “Just a Regular Irregular” – 6
  4. “Bella” – 4
  5. “Rip Off” – 6
  6. “Terra Pericolosa” – 8
  7. “The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction” – 7
  8. “End of Watch” – 7
  9. “The Eternity Injection” – 5.5
  10. “Seed Money” – 6
  11. “The Illustrious Client” – 4.5
  12. “The One That Got Away” – 4.5
  13. “Hemlock” – 6
  14. “The Female of the Species” – 8
  15. “When Your Number’s Up” – 5.5
  16. “For All You Know” – 4
  17. “T-Bone and the Iceman” – 3.5
  18. “The View from Olympus” – 7.5
  19. “One Watson, One Holmes” – 8
  20. “A Stitch in Time” – 7
  21. “Under My Skin” – 7.5
  22. “The Best Way Out Is Always Through” – 6
  23. “Absconded” – 8
  24. “A Controlled Descent” – 0.5

The average rating this season is a solid 6, which is pretty good and a small step up from season 2’s 5.4. This season continues the previous season’s efforts at threading larger stories through the individual episodes. These larger stories include Watson striking out on her own as a detective and tangling with a female drug dealer, and Holmes taking on a new apprentice, Kitty (based on a character from one of the original Conan Doyle stories). Since one of our few ongoing complaints about the series is the shortage of female characters other than Watson, we find both these story lines offer positive developments, although we miss the Holmes-Watson camaraderie that the first two seasons had built up so carefully.

We are spoiled for choice for the best episodes this season with four topping out at 8: “Terra Pericolosa,” about the hunt for an antique map, “The Female of the Species,” in which Holmes and Bell chase stolen zebras, “One Watson, One Holmes,” about an internecine feud in the hacker collective Everyone, and “Absconded,” a kidnapping case connected to bees. Each of these episodes offers the wonderful complexity and unexpected turns that we have come to expect of Elementary, while leading to a satisfying conclusion. It is also significant that, although there are dead bodies in each episode, none of them is primarily a murder investigation. Not only does this ring true to the original stories, in which Holmes investigated everything from bank robberies to things that go clang in the night, it also makes a nice change of pace from the usual routine of the murder mystery procedural.

While there are a few weaker episodes in the 3-5 range, only one stands out as singularly bad: “A Controlled Descent,” at 0.5. In this episode, Holmes is dragged back into his drug-using ways by a lonely former dealer. While there is something to be said for the complexity with which Elementary handles Holmes’s addiction and recovery, this episode just feels cheap and forced, its dealer character a flat and uninteresting plot device.

Image: Watson and Holmes interview a prisoner, from “One Watson, One Holmes” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 2

Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson are back on the case in New York in season 2 of Elementary. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

  1. “Step Nine” – 5.5
  2. “Solve for X” – 4
  3. “We are Everyone” – 5
  4. “Poison Pen” – 6
  5. “Ancient History” – 6
  6. “An Unnatural Arrangement” – 4.5
  7. “The Marchioness” – 4
  8. “Blood is Thicker” – 6
  9. “On the Line” – 4.5
  10. “Tremors” – 5
  11. “Internal Audit” – 6
  12. “The Diabolical Kind” – 6
  13. “All in the Family” – 7.5
  14. “Dead Clade Walking” – 6
  15. “Corpse de Ballet” – 5.5
  16. “The One Percent Solution” – 4.5
  17. “Ears to You” – 4
  18. “The Hound of the Cancer Cells” – 6.5
  19. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colvillle” – 8
  20. “No Lack of Void” – 6
  21. “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – 6
  22. “Paint it Black” – 5.5
  23. “Art in the Blood” – 4
  24. “The Grand Experiment” – 3.5

The average for this season is 5.4, which is fine but a bit of a dip from the first season’s 6.5. There are few standout episodes this season, but none that really fall flat, either. It’s mostly a competently handled second season for Holmes and Watson.

This season sees an attempt to introduce arcs and connected stories, all of which more or less work, but few of which are really compelling. The main arc of the season has to do with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, an interestingly reimagined version of the original lazy, self-indulgent polymath whose brilliant mind was the interconnecting tissue in the late Victorian British government. This version of Myrcoft is a self-indulgent restauranteur who turns out to have a different but equally complicated role in the modern British government. He makes for an interesting character who plays off Sherlock and Joan in surprising ways, but his story lacks payoff. Our lowest-rated episode of the season is the finale, “The Grand Experiment,” at 3.5, in which the truth about Mycroft is revealed, and it doesn’t add up to much.

Other arcs and extended stories this season include the formation and healing of a rift between Sherlock and Detective Bell, the reappearance of Holmes’s former collaborator and self-promoting drunk Inspector Lestrade, and the emergence of Everyone, an anarchic hacker collective who sometimes help with investigations in return for various acts of public humiliation by Sherlock and Joan. Some of these stories work out better than others. Bell and Holmes’s rancorous split isn’t always fun to watch, but it does give Jon Michael Hill, who plays Bell, some rich material to work with. Lestrade is an entertaining buffoon, another interesting take on a classic Holmes character. The hackers of Everyone are a nebulous group who become mostly-unseen recurring side characters providing useful information for Sherlock and Joan and creating amusing opportunities for Sherlock to do ridiculous things in return.

As usual, though, the most rewarding part of Elementary is not any season arc, but the devious crimes Sherlock and Joan get to untangle while Joan grows as a detective in her own right and Sherlock comes to appreciate the value of their partnership. The best episodes this season, the only two that rise above competently average, offer just such cases. “All in the Family,” at 7.5, gives Detective Bell a chance to shine as he uncovers a long-term mafia plot. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville,” at 8, presents a curious challenge as bite marks found on recent murder victims seem to implicate a serial killer who died years ago.

Not everything this season works as well as we might hope, but it’s still a solid season full of intriguing cases for Sherlock and Joan.

Image: Joan and Sherlock, from “Ears to You” via IMDb

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Rating: Elementary, Season 1

Elementary is the American answer to Sherlock, a modern-day Holmes and Watson series which we have found to be more enjoyable than its British inspiration. Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant detective and recovering drug addict. Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson, former surgeon, who starts out as Sherlock’s sober companion but soon becomes his partner and an accomplished detective in her own right. Here’s how we rated season 1.

  1. “Pilot” – 10
  2. “While You Were Sleeping” – 8
  3. “Child Predator” – 8
  4. “The Rat Race” – 6
  5. “Lesser Evils” – 7
  6. “Flight Risk” – 6
  7. “One Way to Get Off” – 4
  8. “The Long Fuse” – 5.5
  9. “You Do It to Yourself” – 6
  10. “The Leviathan” – 7.5
  11. “Dirty Laundry” – 8
  12. “M.” – 6
  13. “The Red Team” – 6
  14. “The Deductionist” – 5.5
  15. “A Giant Gun, Filled with Drugs” – 6
  16. “Details” – 4.5
  17. “Possibility Two” – 4
  18. “Deja Vu All Over Again” – 8
  19. “Snow Angels” – 10
  20. “Dead Man’s Switch” – 5
  21. “A Landmark Story” – 4
  22. “Risk Management” – 5
  23. “The Woman / Heroine” – 10

Elementary gets off to a roaring start in its first season with a great combination of complex characters, rich performances, and intricate mysteries. The average rating for season 1 is 6.5, which is very strong showing for a new series.

There’s a lot of credit to go around for that strong start. The writers give the actors a lot to work with, and the actors take it and run with it. Sherlock and Joan are both interesting characters in their own right, but the dynamic between them as they slowly figure out how to live and work together and each one starts to bring out the best qualities of the other is wonderful to watch. In the best Holmesian tradition, the mysteries they investigate unfold in surprising but logical ways, often leading to resolutions far afield from where they began. The production design feels real and precise—you can smell the dirt on the New York sidewalks and the money in the corporate offices. Even though this series takes some dramatic departures from the Holmes and Watson canon, it is also filled with loving touches of fannishness that reward those familiar with the original stories—if you remember, for instance, that in one original story Holmes tells Watson that his nemesis Professor Moriarty has a painting in his front hall that he could not possibly afford on his academic salary, you are a step ahead of one episode’s twist.

Of course, even in such a good first season, not everything quite works. The lowest rating for this season, a passable but uninspired 4, is shared by three episodes: “One Way to Get Off,” about a potentially wrongly convicted man from Captain Gregson’s past, “Possibility Two,” in which a client comes to Holmes believing that he has somehow been given a genetic disorder, and “A Landmark Story,” which begins the set up to the final reveal of Moriarty. Each of these episodes has its merits, but they suffer from some weak plotting.

These three low episodes, though, are balanced by three full 10s. The pilot episode combines an interesting case in which a deliberate murder was cleverly stage-managed to look random—a subtle callback to the original Holmes story A Study in Scarlet—with our introduction to the characters of Sherlock and Joan and the first steps in their friendship. “Snow Angels” pits the detective pair against not just a daring robbery but a blizzard which knocks out power throughout the city (and, as a bonus, gives us the delightful side character of Pam the snow plow driver). The double-episode finale, “The Woman / Heroine” offers the most interesting take on both Irene Adler and Moriarty that we’ve ever seen.

I’m often disappointed in Sherlock Holmes adaptations that pit the detective against his nemesis Professor Moriarty. In the original stories, Moriarty is nothing more than a plot device to get rid of a character Conan Doyle was tired of writing. He appears in only one story and is briefly mentioned in just a couple of others. I find Holmes to be at his best when he is unraveling a problem, not chasing an enemy, but Elementary found a way to make Moriarty work.

We look forward to reviewing and rating season 2.

Got your own take on Elementary? Let us know!

Image: Joan and Sherlock from Elementary via IMDb

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Representation Chart: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 3

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Phase 3 movies of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Captain America: Civil War; Doctor Strange; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home)

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Captain America: Civil War: Tony Stark / Iron Man, Steve Rogers / Captain America, Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier, Rumlow / Corssbones, Clint Barton / Hawkeye, Vision, Scott Lang / Ant-Man, Zemo, Thaddeus Ross, Everett Ross, Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch, Sharon Carter / Agent 13, Colonel Rhodes / War Machine, Sam Wilson / Falcon, King T’Chaka, T’Challa / Black Panther
  • Doctor Strange: Dr. Stephen Strange, Kaecilius, Dr. West, Dr. Christine Palmer, the Ancient One, Mordo, Wong
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Peter Quill / Star-Lord, Yondu, Stakar Ogord, Ego, Taserface, Kraglin, Nebula, Ayesha, Gamora, Mantis
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Peter Parker / Spider-Man, Adrian Toomes / Vulture, Happy Hogan, Flash, Mason, Mr. Delmar, Mr. Harrington, May Parker, Betty, Shocker, Abe, Coach Wilson, Michelle, Liz, Ned, Principal Morita
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Thor, Loki, Grandmaster, Skurge, Bruce Banner, Odin, Hela, Heimdall, Topaz
  • Black Panther: Ulysses Klaue, Killmonger, W’Kabi, Shuri, M’Baku, N’Jobu, Ramonda, Zuri, Nakia, Okoye
  • Avengers: Infinty War: Eitri
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Luis, Hank Pym, Sonny Burch, Kurt, Hope Van Dyne / Wasp, Cassie, Janet Van Dyne, Dave, Bill Foster, Ava / Ghost, Agent Woo, Uzman
  • Captain Marvel: Talos (as Keller), Yon-Rogg, Ronan, Agent Coulson, Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel, Wendy Lawson, Nick Fury, Korath, Att-Lass, Maria Rambeau, Monica Rambeau, Minn-Erva
  • Avengers: Endgame: Pepper Potts, Morgan
  • Spider-Man: Far from Home: Quentin Beck / Mysterio, William Riva, Maria Hill, Janice, Mr. Dell, Brad

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
  • “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 10

It’s a mostly forgettable season 10 for our favorite turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto detective. Here’s our take on this season’s episodes:

  1. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 1” – 5
  2. “Great Balls of Fire, Part 2” – 6
  3. “A Study in Pink” – 6.5
  4. “Concocting a Killer” – 6
  5. “Jagged Little Pill” – 6.5
  6. “Bend it Like Brackenreid” – 6
  7. “Painted Ladies” – 4
  8. “Weekend at Murdoch’s” – 8
  9. “Excitable Chap” – 4
  10. “The Devil Inside” – 0
  11. “A Murdog Mystery” – 6
  12. “The Missing” – 6.5
  13. “Mr. Murdoch’s Neighborhood” – 5.5
  14. “From Murdoch to Eternity” – 3
  15. “Hades Hath No Fury” – 4
  16. “Master Lovecraft” – 3
  17. “Hot Wheels of Thunder” – 6
  18. “Hell to Pay” – 0

At an average rating of only 4.8, this season is the lowest of the series, dragged down by a number of episodes that are competent but uninspiring, and a few that we found entirely unwatchable, with little at the upper end to balance them out.

This season rings in with a pair of 0s in “The Devil Inside,” one more unnecessary slog with serial-killer Murdoch-fan James Gillies, who we thought we were done with for good back in season 7, and “Hell to Pay,” an unimaginative “conspiracy to frame the detective” cliffhanger with the added detriment of killing off one familiar female character and leaving another one in peril. These sorts of episodes are clearly an attempt by the writers to “add drama” and “make it personal” in the most tired and cliched of ways.

Some of the season’s other episodes, though not disastrous, didn’t work very well for us. The period pieces “Excitable Chap,” (4) a Murdoch version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and “Master Lovercraft,” (3) about a young H. P. Lovecraft stumbling across a dead body on a visit to Toronto, both have some clever moments but are hampered by poor writing and lackluster acting. The new recurring character Detective Watts is charmingly quirky, but feels more like one writer’s pet project than an organic part of the Murdoch universe.

Besides these weaknesses, though, there are good points to the season. The season-opening two-parter, “Great Balls of Fire” parts 1 (5) and 2 (6), deals with the 1904 Great Fire of Toronto in a way that is both respectful of the historical tragedy and well-integrated into the series’ story and the lives of its characters. We enjoyed the return of Murdoch’s old friend and private detective Freddie Pink in “A Study in Pink” (6.5). Miss James gets to run an investigation of her own in “Jagged Little Pill” (6.5). And there is some delightful nonsense in “A Murdog Mystery” (6), an episode that kicks off with a murdered show dog, and “Hot Wheels of Thunder” (6), which brings roller derby shenanigans to the Murdoch world.

The one standout episode of the season, though, is “Weekend at Murdoch’s” (8), a gleefully silly romp using the Weekend at Bernie’s gimmick in which Murdoch goes to increasingly absurd lengths to try to lure out a killer using the corpse of our old favorite upper-class twit Roger Newsome (of the Mimico Newsomes). While this episode spells the end for Roger, we are happily left with his equally preposterous sister, Ruth, who becomes a new returning character.

Season 10 isn’t altogether bad, but it is a low point in the series. Here’s hoping for an upswing in season 11.

Image: The late Roger Newsome, from “Weekend at Murdoch’s” via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 9

Here’s our ratings for season 9 of the Canadian early-twentieth-century detective series Murdoch Mysteries:

  1. “Nolo Contendere” – 6.5
  2. “Marked Twain” – 4
  3. “Double Life” – 4
  4. “Barenaked Ladies” – 5
  5. “24 Hours ’til Doomsday” – 8.5
  6. “The Local Option” – 6
  7. “Summer of ’75” – 4
  8. “Pipe Dreamzzz” – 6
  9. “Raised on Robbery” – 8
  10. “The Big Chill” – 6
  11. “A Case of the Yips” – 4
  12. “Unlucky in Love” – 6.5
  13. “Colour Blinded” – 8
  14. “Wild Child” – 4
  15. “House of Industry” – 4.5
  16. “Bl**dy H*ll” – 7.5
  17. “From Buffalo with Love” – 4
  18. “Cometh the Archer” – 0

The average rating for this season is 5.4, which puts this season right about the middle with some seasons averaging higher and some lower.

There’s some cast shakeups and character development under way. Dr. Grace departs the series and her place as Dr. Ogden’s science sister is taken by Miss James, the first main character of color. We miss Dr. Grace, who was a favorite, but it’s nice to see the series continue to improve on acknowledging the diversity of turn-of-the-century Toronto. Constable Crabtree and Inspector Brackenried both get some good character development this season, as Crabtree’s romantic adventures drag him into some odd and dangerous places (“Nolo Contendere,” “From Buffalo with Love”) and Brackenried gets mixed up in a political scandal (“Bl**dy H*ll”).

Most of this season’s episodes rate in the 4-6 range, which is okay but not great. The season average is brought up, though, by a handful of better episodes, while only one really bad one drags it down. The bottom of the barrel comes at the end of the season with “Cometh the Archer,” a peculiar and tedious episode bringing back master criminal Eva Green and turning her into an unstable Murdoch fangirl. It’s a strange episode which seems to exist for little reason other than showing Dr. Ogden on a leather-clad, bow-wielding rampage of revenge—which is not a bad goal in itself, but it deserves a better treatment than this episode gives it.

Our highest-rated episode of the season, at 8.5, is “24 Hours ’til Doomsday,” a rollicking adventure with a steampunk edge about an ambitious experiment in rocketry. This episode brings back favorite returning characters James Pendrick and Terrence Myers, and ends with Myers taking an unexpected ride into the upper atmosphere. Two more episodes come in at 8, “Raised on Robbery,” a bank heist story which makes for a nice change of pace from the usual murders, and “Colour Blinded,” which gives Miss James some development and explores some of the complexities of race relations in early twentieth-century Canada.

Feel free to share your own favorites from season 9!

Image: Pendrick showing Murdoch his wingsuit design, from “24 Hours ’til Doomsday,” Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

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Random Thoughts on Avengers: Endgame

It took us a while to get to see Avengers: Endgame a second time, but here we finally are. As usual, thoughts in no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

 

Eppu’s random thoughts

What worked:

  • It was partly what I expected, but only partly. Mostly it was really not at all what I thought it would be. That’s great.
  • So many smaller Marvel characters we’ve glimpsed over the years got brief moments, if not a line or two.
  • A Stan Lee cameo for one more (last?) time.
  • The pacing was quite good; the movie did not feel three hours long. While Avengers: Infinity War felt stuffed to the gills, parts of A:E felt almost meditative. The slow lead down to the final fight (because of course there has to be a big final fight) was especially welcome. I might have wanted to see the post-snap world (not just USA) get more development, but what can you do—the movie is already so long.
  • Jeremy Renner got some very emotional stuff to perform, and he was especially great. Kudos.
  • So much of the dialogue is so funny, especially Ant-Man’s!
  • Captain America’s second elevator scene at the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters with H.Y.D.R.A. agents. Thih!
  • At the big final fight, it was great to see several characters—pun fully intended—running the gauntlet with the gauntlet. Teamwork!
  • The women of Marvel got to assemble, too (albeit in one token moment).
  • It was interesting that they kept Thor’s beer belly all the way to the end and specifically didn’t clean him up with Asgardian magic or whatever.

What I absolutely LOVED:

  • How BEAUTIFUL everything looked. I know new special effects have been developed along these 22 movies, and Marvel’s really got them down now. Also, the cinematographer Trent Opaloch did an awesome job again, and the special effects teams seemed to have had more time to work (compared to A:IW).
  • Tony Stark with his daughter—LOVED him in those scenes.
  • Captain America vs. Captain America. *snicker*
  • Professor Hulk’s tete-a-tete with the Ancient One remained verbal after the initial yoinking-out-of-physical-body.
  • Nat and Clint were clearly shown to be good friends, not romantic partners. Same for Nat and Cap.
  • Director Carter. 🙂
  • So many of the men cried at many different points in the story. Because men are not monsters.
  • When Clint came back alone from Vormir, there was literally no dialogue while the rest were trying to come to grips with Nat’s death. Amazing scene, amazing acting!
  • When Professor Hulk first attempted to undo the snap and the rest were wondering whether it worked, Scott Lang went to the window and looked at the birds, absolutely delighted. Great stuff.
  • All of the snap-ashed supers and super groups showing up to stand by Captain America’s side for the final fight. YIBAMBE!
  • Captain America wielding Mjölnir! Aaaaah! I knew he could!
  • Avengers: assemble!
  • Okoye and Shuri! And Pepper Potts in an Iron Suit!
  • Yes, Peter Parker, genuine hugs are really nice.
  • Sam as the new Captain America.
  • That the best, most touching moments weren’t about fisticuffs but people and the relationships between people. Supers are still people, at least in these stories, as are the rest of us.

What I thought wasn’t optimal:

  • The beginning of the movie could have included Captain Marvel’s arrival to the compound.
  • Considering how little time Nebula had in the previous movies, it was odd how much time she had in A:E.
  • As great as it was to see side characters pop up here and there, I miss Maria Hill; she was barely there. (Like Nick Fury, only at Tony’s funeral.) We didn’t see Luis from Ant-Man, either.
  • Hawkeye’s vigilante storyline felt like it was copypasted straight from comics. (I’ve no idea; haven’t read any of those.) As interesting as that might have been, it felt disconnected from everything else tonally and emotionally. I get that that the intent was to have Nat poetically give Clint a chance just like he gave her one, but the integration of the story should’ve been handled better.
  • For such an ensemble movie, it was oddly low in actual team stuff. The main focus and space were on Tony Stark, Captain America, and Thor. Too many moments on those three for an Avengers story, especially when they picked the dudes who already have their own franchises.
  • Speaking of Thor: satisfying hammer-axe action, disappointingly little thunder and lightning.
  • The time-travel plot gimmick felt exactly like that, a gimmick instead of A Rational Plot. Besides, how was Steve able to marry Peggy if doodling with time wasn’t supposed to work that way?
  • What’s this rubbish about barely having Black Panther there?
  • At Stark’s funeral, there was one young dude I didn’t recognize. Apparently he was the young kid from Iron Man 3. O-kay; he wasn’t well integrated at all.
  • Captain Marvel was MASSIVELY underused. What’s the point of having a star player and building up her impact in stingers and trailers if you’re going to bench her for most of the film? Absurd. (I did read a comment online saying that the basic edit of A:E was locked down before Captain Marvel even finished filming. If so, it still doesn’t justify the bad balancing act in the stingers and trailers.)
  • The same also applies to Thor, Doctor Strange, and Scarlet Witch. Doctor Strange had nothing plot-related to do in this film? Really?! You could perhaps argue that acquiring the beer belly might’ve affected Thor’s ability to control lightning; then again, he wasn’t affectected at all by losing an eye in Thor: Ragnarok, so not really. And what on earth was stopping Wanda from either mind controlling Thanos or snapping a bunch of capillaries in his brain!? Marvel really must get its act together and start actually using powerful characters, including the women, as long as they keep insisting on incorporating them into the MCU.
  • Peter Quill got what was coming to him—getting kneed into his privates—for touching someone out of the blue like that, but it didn’t feel satisfactory at all. He needs to have some sense written into him, but this wasn’t the way and I doubt he learned anything.
  • At the very end, Steve’s Old Man Beige(TM) jacket gave me the creeps. Where is it writ that Upon Attaining a Venerable Age, Men Must Wear Beige?!?

What I hated:

  • Thor’s PTSD was a plausible story arc, but done clumsily—too much focus (literally!) was placed on his beer belly, which was played for laughs.
  • Tony Stark may be great with his daughter, but otherwise he’s sill a jerk: asking Pepper a question, then interrupting her in the next breath; all of his needs and wants overriding hers. So, basically, the only time Tony thinks a woman is worthy of respectful treatment is when she’s literally sprung from his own DNA? FFS.
  • If Nebula knew, for her not to have told the Avengers what getting the soulstone requires was nigh on sadistic and not in line with the Nebula the movie spent its beginning establishing. If she merely suspected, it still isn’t in line with the new Nebula. At least she did mention Gamora died on Vormir.
  • You can argue back and forth whether it should’ve been Nat or Clint who got to sacrifice themselves. Since they went the way they did, the fact remains that the writers have now killed two characters for the soulstone, and both are women. It was tiresome already in A:IW (as we see so many dead women in American entertainment which MCU stories are part of—nothing is created in a vacuum). Now they’ve stepped it up (remember how both broken bodies were on display on screen?). The most spot-on comment on this I’ve seen: “’Vormir’ means ‘refrigerator’, right?” Or, in a longer take: “I don’t think anyone involved in making Infinity War understood how viscerally disturbing Gamora’s death was, especially for women in the audience—to be murdered by your abuser in what he claims to be proof of his love, and to have the universe itself validate that proof by giving him what he wants in exchange.” Disgusting.
  • Where was Natasha’s funeral? Why were the men allowed to wallow after losing people, but Pepper got, what, 15 seconds? This stinks of fridging: women die for men to Have Feels.
  • When the women of Marvel got to assemble (albeit in a way that felt forced), they were pretty much stopped there; not even 60 seconds. A:IW had a better all-women fight scene.

What questions I was left with:

  • Um, wasn’t the whole point with Laura and their kids that Clint explicitly wanted to keep ’em off S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar? (It was mentioned in Avengers: Age of Ultron.) We see him wearing an ankle monitor, which means they’re exposed to at least one agency, possibly many. And he was fine with it??
  • What about phase 4??? Seems like whichever way you look, there’s a lot (a lot!) to explain after A:E, and that doesn’t sound like an easy task.

 

Erik’s random thoughts

My random thoughts come in two varieties: gripes and cheers.

The gripes:

  • This is a movie trying to do too much. It has too many characters to serve, too many plots to ravel up, too many nostalgia beats to hit, too much narrative debt to pay off. As with Infinity War before it, it is a tribute to the writers and directors that this movie works at all, but it still feels like twenty pounds of story in a ten-pound bag.
  • Given that the movie is overstuffed, it is no surprise that most of my problems with it concern the things it doesn’t have time for. It is perhaps unfair to complain that a movie with several dozen heroes doesn’t spend enough time with some of them, but there a few cases that feel particularly galling. Chief among those is Captain Marvel. After a movie and two stingers building up her potential as a game-changing hero, she barely appears in Endgame. Her most significant contribution to the plot is delivering Tony Stark back to Earth, after which she disappears for most of the rest of the runtime. The movie practically spends more time making excuses for Carol Danvers’s absence than it does explaining the central time heist.
  • The movie’s handling of women in general is pretty awful. They mostly appear as emotional supports to men or in roles so small as to be effectively meaningless. When the female heroes assemble in the midst of the final battle, all they really get to do is pose together before the general melee resumes. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a problem with is female characters for the whole decade, yet the fact that the filmmakers evidently thought a quick photo-op in a three-hour movie was good enough is somehow even more enraging than the usual neglect.
  • In a similar vein, it is not nothing that this movie includes the first openly, explicitly gay character in the MCU, and the fact that he is taken seriously as a person, without comment or surprise—and by Captain America, no less—is unequivocally good. At the same time, an unnamed throwaway character in a scene that does not advance the plot and will be easy to edit out in less tolerant markets is about as close to nothing as you can get.
  • There is a reason why the original Avengers movie worked so brilliantly: not only did the movie as a whole have a clear narrative line, but all of the major characters had their own arcs. You could watch it as an Iron Man movie, a Captain America movie, a Hulk movie, a Thor movie, a Black Widow movie, even a Hawkeye movie, and it worked. If Avengers proved that there can be room for six main characters in a movie, Infinty War and Endgame have proved that there isn’t room for several dozen. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are the only characters who really have narrative throughlines in the movie. Thor and Bruce Banner each get a couple of good scenes, but not enough for a real story. Natasha and Clint have the suggestion of a story without really getting time to develop.
  • Another thing that made Avengers so successful is that, of all the movies Tony Stark has appeared in, Avengers is the one least dominated by his emotional issues. Endgame sadly falls right into line, devoting more screen time to Tony Stark’s feelings than to anything else.

The cheers:

  • While the whole of this movie may be less than the sum of its parts, some of those parts are pretty good. The scene between Nat and Clint on Vormir sticks out in my mind. For the two poor relations of the Avengers, it was a haunting, beautifully-acted performance that showed the depths of their friendship in a way that has only been hinted at before. I could not guess which of them was going to fall, but it was clear that it would be heartbreaking either way.
  • I appreciated that this movie took the time to show us a post-snap world, even if only in a fragmentary way.
  • A lovely, tiny detail of character development: Tony and Pepper’s daughter tells Tony “I love you 3,000.” When recording a message for her, he says: “I love you 3,000.” Not 3,001 or 4,000, but the same number. For once, he doesn’t feel the need to one-up someone.
  • The final battle is a gloriously overloaded superhero rampage. I usually like cinematic fights to have a clear narrative progression, but there is something to be said for the joy of sheer chaos.
  • Many of the callbacks to previous movies were ingeniously done, but I think my favorite is Falcon announcing the arrival of the un-snapped on the battlefield with: “On your left.”
  • Even though it was far too brief and inconsequential, the assembly of the Marvel women was glorious as long as it lasted, and it made the point that the MCU has lots of powerful female characters. Now they just need movies.
  • There were also nice moments sprinkled through the film of women doing things: Nat running the reduced Avengers, Okoye managing the Wakanda branch (and perhaps the whole African division?) of same, Carol Danvers punching through a spaceship (as she is wont to do), and Nebula reconnecting with a previous version of Gamora. They are not enough, but they are good for what they are.
  • On Nebula and Gamora: in one of the few exceptions to women acting primarily as emotional supports to men, the most important relationship that Gamora develops when brought back from the past is with Nebula, not Peter Quill. The movie in fact gives Nebula, a secondary character from a second-string franchise, a surprising amount of screen time and development. At the end of the movie, Gamora and Nebula’s sisterhood is poised to take over as the most important relationship among the Guardians of the Galaxy, while Thor is in position to replace Quill as leader. If this leads to Quill being sidelined from the group or developing as a character into something more than a petulant overgrown child, I support either change.
  • Steve gets to have a life with Peggy. I’ll let other people worry about the time-travel implications—it is the ending they both deserve, and I’m happy with it.
  • Also: we know that Peggy Carter went on to be someone important in S.H.I.E.L.D. (her office door says Director), while Steve Rogers was a national hero whose face had been all over the newsreels. If he wanted to stay out of history’s way in his life with Peggy, he’d have to keep out of the public eye. Conclusion: Peggy Carter was working a high-powered job in the 1950s while Steve Rogers was a stay-at-home husband. I support this idea, and I believe Captain America would support it, too.

Image: Avengers: Endgame poster via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 8

Our favorite soft-spoken Toronto detective / inventor returns for another season of mysteries. Here’s what we thought of season 8.

  1. “On the Waterfront, Part 1” – 4.5
  2. “On the Waterfront, Part 2” – 6
  3. “Glory Days” – 2.5
  4. “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” – 8
  5. “Murdoch Takes Manhattan” – 7
  6. “The Murdoch Appreciation Society” – 9
  7. “What Lies Buried” – 8
  8. “High Voltage” – 4
  9. “The Keystone Constables” – 4
  10. “Murdoch and the Temple of Death” – 7
  11. “All that Glitters” – 6
  12. “The Devil Wears Whalebone” – 8
  13. “The Incurables” – 5.5
  14. “Toronto’s Girl Problem” – 4
  15. “Shipwreck” – 2
  16. “Crabtreemania” – 6
  17. “Election Day” – 7
  18. “Artful Detective” – 5.5

This season’s average rating is a 5.8, which is not the best Murdoch Mysteries has done, but is a very strong showing for a series in its eighth year and with no signs of faltering.

This season has the distinction of seeing Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden finally tie the knot. Of course, neither their wedding nor their honeymoon can go off without a murder to brilliantly solve together, giving us a delightful pair of episodes in “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” and “Murdoch Takes Manhattan.” The latter episode also features a spirited B-story back in Toronto which allows Dr. Grace to take the wheel for a high(-ish)-speed car chase.

The lowest episode of this season is “Shipwreck,” at 2, in which Murdoch finds his beloved childhood priest fallen from his pedestal. There are good parts to the episode, but it is dragged down by slow pacing and uninspired acting. “Glory Days,” a 2.5 in which a legendary lawman of the US old west thinks he’s hunting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Toronto is not much better, as it wallows in the unappealing tropes of male resentment.

But these low points are more than outweighed by a number of fine episodes. The best of the season is “The Murdoch Appreciation Society,” at 9, in which Murdoch’s in-universe fans stage a fake mystery for the chance to watch him work, which becomes tangled up with a real murder plot. Also notable are “The Devil Wears Whalebone,” an 8, which features one of the series’ more inventive murder weapons, and “What Lies Buried,” also an 8, a tense and claustrophobic drama in which Murdoch seeks a killer within the police force itself. Along the way, we get the usual Murdoch hijinks with vaudeville theatre, staged wrestling matches, the early days of the women’s suffrage movement, and an Indiana Jones pastiche.

All told, it’s another fun go around with Detective Murdoch and company.

Image: Dr. Grace at the wheel, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

Post edited to correct grammatical errors

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

What We Want to See in Avengers: Endgame

It’s now just over a week until Avengers: Endgame comes out. The trailers have given us a few hints about what we’ll see in the conclusion to last year’s Infinity War, but there’s still so much we don’t know about how this is all going to end. So, as we await the final countdown, here’s our thoughts on what we would like to see when the lights go down in the theatre:

 

Erik:

I was disappointed in a lot of Infinity War‘s choices, so it’s easier to say what I hope we don’t see, but in the interest of staying positive, here’s what I actually want:

  • A resolution to the Steve/Tony conflict from Captain America: Civil War. I have complained in the past about the Marvel movies being too focused on Tony Stark’s emotional life, but this one is too big a deal to leave hanging. I want to see them come together, not just because they need each other in a moment of crisis but with a proper resolution.
  • The consequences of the Great Snap. I want us to spend some time understanding the real effects on the world of half its population disappearing at once. Not just that so many of our favorite characters are gone, but that the death of half of all the people on a planet necessarily has profound effects on the culture and society of those who are left behind, effects that stretch beyond the immediate grief and trauma of loss.
  • Someone to tell Thanos that he’s a complete idiot. Thanos’s history and motivation make him an interesting villain, but we spent so much time listening to him monologue about his very, very stupid plan for the universe in Infinity War that I really want someone to let him have it and tell him just how very, very stupid his plan is.
  • At least one more Stan Lee cameo. I really hope they got one in the can for this movie.
  • Heroes with a plan. Most of what we saw the heroes do in Infinity War was scrambling, improvising, punching first and asking questions never. I want to see our heroes take the time to regroup, think about the challenge ahead, and make a proper plan.
  • Shuri. I know she seems to be among the dusted, but dang it, I want more Shuri! More Shuri in everything!

 

Eppu:

Unlike Erik, I’ll throw in some negative stuff, but I’ll front the good:

  • If the movie’s going to be 3 hours long, good pacing is a must. Marvel Cinematic Universe has generally been pretty good with that, but I found AIW less successful on that score. Here’s hoping for a great editing team!
  • An intelligent plot twist and some semblance of balance between action and planning. I get that the world is reeling after the snap, but especially since AIW failed so spectacularily in trying to counter Thanos in an intelligent manner, they’re gonna need some brain in the game. Like Doctor Strange to have done something epic, planted some seed somewhere, that along with the remainder of the Avengers’ actions will turn the tide.
  • Shuri! Anywhere, doing anything. Likewise for Okoye and Janet Van Dyne, and it had better be more than a flashback!
  • A solution for Banner’s Hulk problems would be nice but optional.
  • I already mentioned Thor using his new axe-mace. (Stormbringer, I think?) We barely saw it in AIW. Some more awesome lightning blast fights like in Ragnarok, too, please!
  • In the same vein, clever fighting tactics and using individual characters’ strengths to the fullest in cooperation with others. (Like Bucky grabbing Rocket by the scruff and spinning around, both of them firing off at Thanos’ monster troops in Wakanda in AIW. That was a thoughtful bit I liked.) That’s why we watch superhero movies: for the smarts and the smashes.
  • Fewer Thanos manologues. So. TIRESOME.
  • For Peter Quill to grow up and stop being such a whiny, self-centered, insecure git. It’s not fun to watch but painful, since he’s not given any growth to speak of. (Whatever there was at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy was essentially negated in AIW when he started measuring himself against Tony Stark. And this applies to any feature he might appear on.) Oddly, though, last I checked I couldn’t find his name on the IMDB full cast and crew for Endgame. I wonder what’s up with that?

 

That’s what we’ll be looking out for when we head to the movies next week. What about the rest of you? What are you hoping for in Endgame?

Image: Avengers: Endgame poster via IMDb

Creative Differences is an occasional feature in which we discuss a topic or question that we both find interesting. Hear from both of us about whatever’s on our minds.